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By Michael Fagans / The Californian
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By Courtesy Bolthouse family
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By Courtesy Bolthouse family
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By Courtesy Bolthouse family
BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
In the heart of southeast Asia, Cambodia offers everything a traveler could want: exotic jungles, colorful culture and ancient temples.
But the small country also attracts the least-wanted of visitors: those looking to buy the company of children.
Poverty and demand drive the trafficking of children into the sex industry in Cambodia. Children may be sold into sex work or unwittingly lured into brothels under the guise of a promising job.
The new film "Trade of Innocents," starring Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino and actor Dermot Mulroney, tells the story of a couple who after the loss of their own child seek to protect those threatened by the child sex trade in Cambodia.
The movie, which hasn't hit theaters yet, is set in Siem Reap, a bustling tourism hub near Cambodia's famous Angkor temples, and was filmed in Bangkok, Thailand.
The film has another, unlikely birthplace -- Bakersfield. A local bank and producer were key to developing the movie from idea to reality.
"Every step of the way, someone from Bakersfield has been instrumental," said producer Bill Bolthouse, a Colorado-based family physician from the Bolthouse Farms family.
Bolthouse and his family came face-to-face with the realities of child sex work when they visited Cambodia in 2007. While Bolthouse helped with a hospital project, his wife, Laurie, and their three daughters spent time with nonprofit workers and young Vietnamese girls recently rescued from brothels.
Some of the girls had been sold by their families to brothel owners; some were HIV positive.
The Bolthouses quickly realized these were innocent children similar to their own. The family wondered what they could do to help beyond supporting the organization that cared for the rescued girls.
The Bolthouses found their answer when Canadian filmmaker Christopher Bessette approached them in 2009 about making a movie addressing the issue that haunted them.
"We wanted to humanize the story, really get people to see that these are real girls and that there's real terror," Bolthouse said.
Bessette had visited Cambodia, too, documenting the work of International Justice Mission, the same human rights agency with which the Bolthouses had connected. He wrote the movie, basing his characters on the people he met and awful situations he witnessed in Cambodia.
"(People) buy a child and then they become the property of a brothel owner," he said. "Then you have foreigners not only from North America but from all other countries pouring in and feeding it."
Bessette and the Bolthouses had a story to tell but needed the money to do it. Valley Republic Bank stepped in to provide Bolthouse with the financing.
Bruce Jay, president and CEO of Valley Republic, said the project may raise eyebrows initially because most people associate the Bolthouse name with carrots. But Jay said the movie makes more sense if you know that Dr. Bolthouse has spent much of his career doing volunteer medical work.
"We're very excited to be a part of it," Jay said. "To have such a significant story have its roots in Bakersfield, it says a lot about Bakersfield."
The movie's local connections continued to grow when Jim Schmidt, a producer with Dean River Productions who also lives in Bakersfield, came on board.
"It's really kind of Bakersfield's film," Schmidt said.
The movie weaves together the stories behind the world of trafficking, Schmidt said, from the cop who turns a blind eye to the crimes to the mother who sells a child to provide for the rest of her family. He said the movie is similar to "Blood Diamond" and "Schindler's List" in being meaningful without sermonizing.
"You can tell a real powerful story that's based on reality," he said. "We didn't want it to be a message film because nobody likes to get preached at."
While the makers of the movie were mum on its price tag, the Internet Movie Database estimated the budget to be about $5.8 million. The U.S. crew were in Thailand from January to April planning and filming the movie.
Schmidt said Thailand's established film industry made it easier to shoot there and hundreds of local people were employed by the film.
The Bolthouse family also relocated to Thailand for the making of the movie. Dr. Bolthouse said he and his wife cried the first time they visited the set and saw an army of caterers, costumers and crew preparing for filming.
The 90-minute movie came out in final form last week, Bolthouse said.
"I've seen the film a thousand times," he said by phone Wednesday, adding that the final product is engaging with poignant scenes and great cinematography.
The film's release date isn't set, but Schmidt said he hopes it will be in theaters in March or April. The final film will also feature a website to refer people to agencies that fight human trafficking, producers said.
"I'm not like Bono. I'm not setting up my own organization to take their money, I'm just pointing them in the right direction," Bolthouse said. "My hope is that it moves people not just emotionally, which I know it will, but that it moves them to action and little by little we change the equation."
The web of human trafficking extends far beyond Asia. Elizabeth Pfenning, a program associate for Polaris Project, a nonprofit that combats domestic trafficking, said "Trade of Innocents" could be a platform for teaching more people that.
She noted that since the Polaris Project took over the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline in 2007, California has had the highest volume of calls.
"It's great that films like this are out," Pfenning said. "I think the reality is that this is something that happens on our shores as well."